At the time, he was working through the tragedy of losing his sister to a long illness and taking on the business operations of the store she had owned and operated.
Burks and his sister Tina Bearden each oversaw one of the home centers their father started. Their mother still operates a third location.
When Tina died, Burks took over her store and began looking closely at her business to see how to make it more profitable.
He worked with a store designer to update and maximize the use of the 45,000-square-foot facility.
Burks redid everything from the flooring and aisle widths to the in-store background music and exterior paint. He expanded every department, doubling the number of SKUs on the shelves.
What Burks didn’t realize was that widening the aisles, cleaning up the store, growing sales and getting active in the community to follow Tina’s lead were preparing Wholesale Lumber to meet local people’s needs during a global pandemic.
Tina had been well loved in the community, where she had not only worked but also gave generously of her time and resources. Customers were loyal to the business because they were loyal to her, Burks says.
When local businesses began to close down due to governor’s orders that only essential businesses remain open to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Burks’ dedication to community service and Wholesale Lumber’s wide aisles were ready to accommodate customers’ pandemic needs.
“The way it was laid out before, there was no way we could have safely brought in the number of people we have now,” Burks says.
While primarily designed to add convenience and comfort to customers’ shopping experience, the remodeled aisles created space allowing for social distancing inside the store.
The parking lot’s 30-vehicle capacity and entry gate made it simple to limit the number of customers coming into the store at the same time to keep shoppers and staff safe.
And giving away free, handmade protective face masks was in keeping with the store’s history of generosity.
“As soon as the CDC said a mask was a good thing, we made them mandatory for everyone coming in,” Burks says. “We decided to give customers the option of a free mask instead of turning them away.”
Burks recruited employees, his wife and two volunteers in the community to make masks to give to everyone who came to the store without one. They gave away at least 2,000 reusable masks, which Burks sees people wearing around town.
He is also looking for ways to support other small businesses that need to modify their facilities to improve safety for customers during the pandemic. Burks recently launched a program offering $1,000 in supplies from Wholesale Lumber to up to 20 local business owners who need to install sneeze guards and implement other safety measures.
“You can only be as healthy as the community you’re in,” Burks says.